Monday, February 1, 2010

Lee Mun Wah Gives a Fresh Look Into Diversity

The subject of race is touchy, and Lee Mun Wah brings a fresh perspective to a centuries old issue.

Upon meeting Mun Wah, I felt immediately at ease due to his calm demeanor. He put forth a plethora of wisdom when speaking.

Mun Wah is Chinese American, and gives seminars about diversity issues. He began his seminar at Vol State by telling a story about when he was a child.

He begins by referring to the shape of his eyes in a tone that produces laughter from the audience. At second glance, you see he isn’t laughing. “I spoke beautiful Cantonese, but I have no accent because of my first day of school.” Mun Wah continues telling the story. “I had a beautiful lunch box with amazing food; rice and fresh vegetables but the kids said that something smelled. I pretended it wasn’t my food, and after that I threw my beautiful lunch box in the trash.” This was a story of when he started school in America.

Vol State student Valerie Robb tells her story. “My family’s attorney takes advantage of my grandmother. He’s Caucasian, and I think he sees our family as ignorant.” Robb is African American.

Mun Wah asked the audience about different racial stereotypes. The stereotypes for Asians could be heard throughout the audience, “Smart,” “Can’t drive,” and “They all play video games.” Indian stereotypes were, “Vegetarians,” “Telemarketers,” and “They drive cabs.”

Next, Mun Wah asked the audience if there are any questions about certain races that they have always wanted to ask. It felt like a safe environment for dispelling myths, and getting certain questions answered. Vol State student Aaron Doyka said, “I’ve wanted to ask many groups questions. I’ve wanted to ask if drinking Tequila and getting high is just an American stereotype for Mexicans.”

Mun Wah then asked the audience if there were any people with Hispanic ethnicity that would like to come up and answer that question. A student named Maggie stepped up and said, “My mother is Hispanic, and my father is white. In a panicked

state my mother stopped speaking Spanish to me, and there were times I hid the fact that I was Hispanic.” She went on to say that this was because of the stereotypes that people have. She said that this is a myth and not all Hispanics sit around and drink all day. They are very hard workers.

Mun Wah brought up another young man. He was an African American man named Antoine and was about 6’4” tall. Most audience members assumed he played basketball. “Yes, I play basketball. My favorite subject is computers though,” he said. Antoine was asked if he had ever been approached by a gang. “I’ve been approached, but never been in one.” He said that in high school, “If something happened in the class, they automatically assumed that I did it. It made me feel unwanted. I guess I figured that’s how it’s supposed to be.” Antoine said, “I don’t want people to overlook my skin color. I want to be accepted as a human being.”

After taking different comments and questions, Mun Wah then asked everyone to stand up, form a circle, and join hands. A lot of people don’t know how to deal with the issue of racism, and feel that ignoring it is best. Mun Wah explained that asking questions and becoming knowledgeable is one of the best ways to combat diversity issues.

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